Meditation and Music
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on January 31, 2013
A new study suggests that mindfulness meditation can be used as a method to improve attention and heighten appreciation for music and other activities.
University of Oregon researcher Frank Diaz, Ph.D., dabbled in using yoga and meditation as a means to heighten music engagement when he was a high school orchestra and band educator. The techniques seemed to improve student attention.
Diaz, a professor in the UO School of Music and Dance, is now evaluating if mindfulness meditation may enhance both music engagement and performance.
In a study appearing online ahead of publication in the journal Psychology of Music, he reports a rise of focused engagement for student participants who listened to a 10-minute excerpt of Giacomo Puccini’s opera “La Boheme” after listening to a 15-minute recording of a segment.
Mindfulness meditation has been used for centuries as a method to direct a person’s consciousness into the present. In this case, listeners were reminded to focus on physical sensations or their breathing if their attention drifted.
In the study, 132 student participants were divided into four groups. Those undergoing mindfulness preparation were then additionally divided into subgroups that were tested for two types of peak experiences, a highly emotional experience known as aesthetic response, and flow — the listeners’ effortless engagement or how much “in the zone” they were as they listened to the music.
Control groups, which did not hear the mindfulness recording, were tested either for aesthetic or flow responses.
Subjects were tested for real time responses using a Continuous Response Digital Interface. The device allows subjects to turn a dial, rather than speaking, in response to how music moves them as they listen. The dial’s movement was recorded.
Overall, 97 percent of the participants had either one or several moments of flow or aesthetic response. Of the 69 subjects who engaged in mindfulness, 64 percent thought the technique had enhanced their listening experience.
There was a discrepancy between the subjects’ responses gathered in real time and summary data — how they reacted by turning the dial while listening vs. how they recalled their experience at the end of the experiments.
Diaz said that the real-time responses more accurately captured the attention being devoted to the music, and that the mindfulness technique helped drive participants into the zone of readiness to listen to music they’ve heard many times before.
“It tends to take habituated responses and renews them. It’s almost like a reset button,” Diaz said. “For musicians, if you’re a symphony player, you’ve probably played ‘Beethoven’s No. 9′ 10,000 times. Your response is so habituated that you don’t get any pleasure out of it anymore.
“The cool thing about ‘La Boheme’ is that it has been used in music-related studies for years, and we have these patterns documented over time by people studying responses to music. That lets you compare past and present with a new group.”
Diaz believes the study findings may influence future music education. “Attention can be modified,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be done chemically or by changing the environment. Human beings have the capacity to learn to self-regulate their attention, and when you do that it increases the quality of typical, everyday experiences.
“Listening to music mindfully can be a powerful way of increasing your quality of life. We really found significant increases in the participants’ aesthetic and flow experience. Some were intense. They were really in the zone.”
(Source: University of Oregon)